I have written before about how and why I feel that the format is wrong. I have written before about how an alternative World Cup structure might work. I have written before about how mis-management could bring about the death of One-Day International cricket. None of these are new topics. However, with a frankly exemplary World Cup taking place in Brazil, despite all of the anticipation to the contrary, I think it's time to have another look.
As I have said before, the bare minimum for a credible World Cup is a sixteen-team competition. Never mind if one or two of those teams aren't quite up to scratch - let them play cricket. If that was really a concern, would England's flaky footwork not have de-valued the present football World Cup? Would it not also be the case that the 2011 World Cup had no credibility because of Namibia's maulings? The credibility of a World Cup comes from it being a competition that anyone in the world could theoretically win, and anything else is a poor alternative.
Of course, more places in the World Cup doesn't necessarily make it any more credible by that definition. Not if the Full Member sides (or at least eight of them, should the ten-team excuse continue to be the chosen model) are exempt from missing out. After all, at the start of the FIFA World Cup, Ukraine were ranked 17th in the world, but they are not present because they couldn't hack it in qualifying. Meanwhile, Australia (62nd) are at the event because they could. That doesn't make it any less of a valid event.
Crucially, the ICC even has the means at hand to make such a qualifying structure work. The World Cricket League, although presently rather convoluted and downtrodden, could be harnessed and used as a qualifying structure, possibly even a ranking system. For a league structure, it is rather odd how the divisions overlap.
Under my model, the top 48 teams (from Australia all the way down to Bhutan) would be split into six divisions of eight. The the top and bottom two of each division would be promoted and relegated respectively, which would mean that every year, the two most worthy Division Two (to start with, the six ODI Associates, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) teams would earn the chance to play against the best six teams in the world. Meanwhile, the number seven and eight sides would give opportunities to the less successful Associates in Division Two. Additionally, by playing each Division as a week-long round-robin tournament, there would be little or no disturbance to the semi-sacred FTP, in whatever form it is allowed to continue.
What will a young cricketer prefer to do - play a three-hour format for shiny things, or a five-day format for a bit of national pride and a stress fracture?
What would an Associate administrator focus on - the shiny prospect of the fabled Test Challenge, or the dark but distant spectre of being shut out of cricket's global showpiece?
What would a rich cricket board focus on - the short-term shiny things brought in by their shiny Premier League, or the worry that one day, it's possible that nobody else will know or care about it?
In an ideal world, it would be nice for all concerned to be able to see a little way past the shiny things being waved in front of their faces to see the worrying prospect a little further on. By focussing on their shiny things for too long, those involved in running cricket have left the game in the hands of a cement baron who makes Sepp Blatter look completely (almost) honest and transparent, have shut out 90% of the cricketing world from the World Cup, and have ensured that the days of two of cricket's three formats are numbered.
But who cares if there are shiny things?